Category Archives: Holidays

July 4 Celebration

My mother was afraid of deep water, a fear she transmitted to me early on. In spite of that, my married siblings insisted on celebrating Independence Day fishing from the banks of the San Joaquin River or picnicking beside a clear stream in the foothills. It was a break for adults to escape a mundane workday and for kids to have fun splashing in the water. Mama kept a watchful eye on me. If I ventured into water above my knees, she waded beside me and kept a firm grip on the back of my clothes. All that changed on July 4, 1954.

That morning, we dressed in our finest, buckled our polished shoes, and walked to church. My brother, Frank, and his family were there when we arrived. His youngest son, James Henry, sat in a far corner, arms folded across his chest, head down.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked Homer, his teen brother.

“He wanted to go to the river today, but Dad made us come to church.”

“Same for us,” I said. “Church comes first on Sundays. James should know that.”

“We always go to the river on his birthday, so coming to church today was bad enough. Then things got worse.” Homer looked toward James. “He’s nine today and he just found out that all this time we’ve been celebrating Independence Day on July 4, not his birthday.”

 

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Wearing of the Green – a Day to be Irish

St. Patrick’s Day began as a religious feast observance on the supposed date of death of a patron saint (c. AD 385–461), missionary  to Ireland. That continues for a few. For the rest of us, this day is about luck, prosperity, a bright future, and wearing of the green.

My childhood memories of St. Patrick’s Day were filled with stories about green clover, leaping leprechauns, and a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. These traditions were handed down to me at school or by friends, even from window shopping at local stores, but not at home.

I grew up during the “pinching days.” If no green was visible, childhood friends pinched the other child on the arm. Emerald green wasn’t a color in the homemade wardrobe Mama sewed for her young twins. If I forgot to pin a clover from our yard to my dress, I became the most pinched girl of the day.

When I married a Moore who relished his Irish ancestry, St. Patrick’s Day became a joyful time without the pinches. Decades later when I became a foster parent, construction paper clover and leprechaun stickers resurfaced. I baked cookies sprinkled with shimmering green sugar. I added drops of green food coloring to dinner dessert. It was fun to be Irish for a day. Then single again, I continued to sport the tiny plastic shamrock I’d worn for more than twenty years. Last March I lost it while shopping.

My twin participated in the Parker lineage DNA project. The results were surprising. Thomas Bryant Parker, our second great grandfather, was Irish. Now that I have a drop of Irish blood in me, perhaps I’ll buy a new shamrock pin.

Oh, yes. I’m one clover leaf ahead of St. Patrick because history says he was Romano-British, not Irish.

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Noble Nuts

shelled-walnuts-cashews-pixabayChomping on a handful of cashews and almonds today reminded me of my father’s penchant for buying nuts for Christmas. Here’s a glimpse from Double Take (Carr Twins & Co., 2014), a memoir I have retold many times, many ways, many years.

 

At Red’s Market, Papa selects a few groceries, writes each item in a pocket size notebook, and places the food into the shopping cart. A silent moment, as if thinking, follows after he totals the amount. He dips a metal scoop into an open bin of a new crop of walnuts. He carefully inspects each nut and discards those with damaged shells or blemishes. He weighs the remaining walnuts and pours them from the metal scoop into a small brown paper bag, then transfers the bag to the hanging scale. He checks the weight, calculates the price, and writes it in his notebook.

At home after the meager groceries are unloaded and put away, Papa takes the small brown bag of walnuts and disappears into the cellar through the trap door in the dining room floor. I hear him place the bag into a metal can. He returns empty handed.

As the holidays approach, my brother Clyde brings almonds from the orchard near his home. Papa adds Brazil nuts and filberts and deposits all into the can.

This morning, Papa goes into the cellar numerous times, returning with treasures from the can. Today is Christmas.

 

walnut-cracker-basket-pixabymixed-nuts-bowl-pixabayMy father’s holiday snacks required a long wait from the time they were sealed in a 25-gallon storage can in the cellar until Christmas morning. A nutcracker and picks were always nearby in the kitchen, but Papa retrieved a hammer from the handmade wooden toolbox in the cellar. My nephews cracked the almonds and English walnuts in their strong hands and freed the Brazil nuts and filberts with a single tap of the hammer. I tried my luck at both. I had to use the hammer to open all but the almonds. My awkward slams resulted in nut pieces, seldom a half or whole nutmeat.

I purchased shelled ready-to-eat nuts for the holidays. I ignored my father’s disdain of peanuts at Christmas, but I didn’t mix them with the others. After all, peanuts are legumes, not noble nuts.

peanuts-pixaby

 

 

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Escaping Christmas Kitchen Duty

cooking-utensilsLong ago, pots and pans rattled in our kitchen on Christmas Eve. Pungent sage escaped the 11 x 13 inch rectangular glass Pyrex dish filled with dressing baking in the oven. Homemade pie crust snuggled inside a nine-inch round glass plate on the linoleum counter top. Crimped dough, pinched between Mama’s right thumb and forefinger, fluted the pie’s edge. Mincemeat filling rested in a bowl ready to be spooned into the crust. A baked lemon pie cooled and waited to be crowned with meringue on Christmas morning. Mama moved from one task to the next as smooth as a restaurant chef.

Pocket WatchChildhood memories are reminders of a homemade life. Everything from scratch from killing the chicken in the backyard, plucking and cleaning it in the kitchen early Christmas Eve to dipping flour from the tip-out bin for making rolls. Days of work for Christmas lunch (You may remember from previous postings that my father insisting on eating at 12 Noon by his pocket watch) followed by hand washing and drying dishes and sweeping the kitchen and dining room floors.

cheeseballMy own adult memories of baking banana bread, dredging chopped dried fruit for the annual fruitcake, and baking cornbread for southern-style dressing, and homemade cheese balls rolled in fresh-shelled, chopped pecans prepped the holiday scene. Labor-intense hours in the kitchen on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning remind me of those special days.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Recent holiday memories are toil free. If invited to dine with others, I bring a relish plate of veggies and olives. If I decline the invitation as I did this year, Denny’s is my go-to place. My twin and I attended church then headed to the nearby restaurant. It was packed with families, even one group we knew, who escaped Christmas kitchen duty.

 

 

 

 

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Three First Century Wise Men and One Twenty-first Century Wise Woman

salvation-army-kettleFrom Thanksgiving to Christmas, ’tis the season of giving. The sight of familiar bell ringers drenched in rain, whipped by high winds, or chilled by freezing temperatures prompts us to drop a few coins in the red bucket. Letters from homeless shelters and orphanages may entice us to donate a few dollars. Then, there’s the holiday telephone call.

Deputy Sheriff BadgeThis evening while addressing Christmas cards—late I know, but with a fast truck and high winds, they might make it by Christmas Eve—I received a call from a person who identified himself as calling for Alameda County Peace Officers or something similar that evoked a mental image of a uniform and badge. Caught off guard—my mind still sealing envelopes and pressing stamps on those late greeting cards—I listened politely through the first part of the sad speech about collecting funds for a special event for children of officers killed in the line of duty. Then, like the mystery writer that I am, I asked one question.


“How many Alameda County Peace Officers have been killed in the line of duty?”


He didn’t know. Then I asked a second question (more like an accusation). He hung up. I replaced my phone and hurried past the greeting cards stacked on the table, prancing like one of Santa’s reindeer, to my laptop.

The stats: Out of eight Alameda County Sheriff’s officer deaths listed, the most recent was 1998.  A Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) policeman was killed in 2014 from friendly fire by a fellow officer.

computer-books-pencilsthree-magi-pixabayThe biblical magi trusted astronomy and guarded their gold, frankincense, and myrrh until they found the right child. That event anchored the first century A.D. [C.E.] Christmas story. I trusted my instincts and confirmed online statistics with my laptop, my personal twenty-first century wise-woman tale that kept my coins in my pocket.

On second thought, I might drop them in the red bucket.

 

Merry Christmas-Snowman

 

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A Different Thanksgiving

TurkeyMy mother always began preparations on Wednesday for our abundant home-cooked Thanksgiving feast with a main dish of turkey, ham, chicken, duck, or goose–sometimes more than one. Deviled eggs, black olives, pickles and cranberry sauce nestled among bowls brimming with homemade dressing, potato salad, and green beans. Mincemeat, apple, and sweet potato pies covered the kitchen counter. Occasionally, a fresh coconut cake towered over the pies, giving it bragging rights. Mama made room for other side dishes brought by my married siblings just before noon. Papa was serious about the precise time. We ate at noon by his pocket watch—not one minute earlier or later.

The adults sat with Papa around the food-laden table in the dining room. Mama seated the younger children at the square drop-leaf table in the kitchen. I ate in the living room with my twin sister and nieces and nephews our age, balancing our plates on our knees. Mama served everyone first and ate later. After lunch, the women washed and dried dishes. Children played on the covered porch. Men gathered in the tiny living room to talk. A couple of my brothers drifted outside for an afternoon smoke, forbidden inside our home.

chicken_crossingOne eve of Thanksgiving, the smell of chicken frying in a cast-iron skillet wafted from the kitchen in place of baking turkey. The sweet smell of fried apple turnovers replaced the aroma of pies. I listened from the open doorway as my parents talked about working on Thanksgiving Day. Oh, no! It can’t be!

The next morning after breakfast, Mama packed the refrigerated chicken and fried pies in a sturdy cardboard box and covered it with a tablecloth just as Frank, my oldest brother, arrived to take us to work.

I stepped down from the old Model A Ford running board. On the ground, I pulled the strap of my cotton sack over my head and under my left arm, and shook eight feet of canvas between two rows of late-blooming white cotton basking in the early morning sun.

Pocket WatchFive minutes before twelve, Mama stopped picking and spread the tablecloth on a patch of flat ground. Papa removed his hat, wiped his perspiring forehead with a handkerchief and checked his pocket watch. At noon he nodded to Frank to say a blessing for the food.

“Thank you, Lord, for family gathered here on this Thanksgiving Day. Bless this food to the nourishments of our bodies so we can finish this field before dark. Bless the farmer who allowed us to work today. Prosper him abundantly for his kindness. Amen.”

Bless the farmer? Without him we’d be home heaping our plates with turkey and dressing and eyeing the tantalizing desserts, not eating cold fried chicken in a cotton field. My complaining thoughts were interrupted by my nephew’s voice.

“Please pass another piece of Grandma’s fried chicken,” he said. “It’s the best I ever ate. And, could you hand me a couple more fried apple pies. Grandma knows how to make them just right.”

The next year we gathered at home for our traditional Thanksgiving meal. One of my brothers mentioned Frank’s prayer from the previous year.

“That prayer must have worked,” he said. “That farmer did so well he bought a cotton-picking machine and put all of us out of work.”

Cottton Picker Machine

 

Violet Carr Moore, adapted from Double Take (Carr Twins & Co., 2014)

Posted at 12 noon, Pacific Standard Time, in honor of my father’s tradition

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Letter to Saint Valentinus

Dear Saint Valentinus,

Hearts-Pink-Pixabay
Valentine’s Day was a big deal in my first-grade class. Mrs. Buffington reminded the students to bring cards to share with the other students. My mother loved planning celebrations. My father shunned them. After school, while he was at work gardening a yard, she walked my twin sister and me to the five and dime and let each of us choose one cellophane-wrapped pack of 30 cards. That double purchase cost her about six bits with tax (that’s 75 cents in modern coins), but Mama supported our goal of giving cards to every student in our class with a few leftovers for the neighborhood kids. That year, I came home grinning, waving a stack of valentines from classmates.

Happy Valentine's Bay-PixabayThe following year, we hurried along beside Mother to the dime store to choose packages of Valentine cards, again while Papa was at work. You must have been too busy with romantic grownups to notice a second-grader in Mrs. Rigdon’s class because that wasn’t much of a celebration. Some of my classmates limited their giveaways to favorite friends. I went home with only a handful of cards and a half-smile.
Crayola stampMrs. Moore, my wise third-grade teacher, skipped the hand-out tradition in favor of individual self-expression art projects. Oh happy day!

Heart cake-PixabayAfter that, Valentine’s Day lost its shine for me. Mama continued to sprinkle heart-shaped cinnamon redhots on white-frosted homemade birthday cakes until we graduated from eighth grade. Then, no more hearts.

I inherited my mother’s fascination with holidays and special occasions, any joyous event. That intensified after my no-celebration father died following a short illness in the first semester of my freshman year of high school.  After that, I imagined a kneeling knight in shining armor in a romantic setting near a bubbling fountain,  a marriage proposal, the diamond ring glinting in the moonlight.

Red Rose - PixabayI just knew you’d do your part, Saint Valentine. But, where was the moonlit night, the fountain, hearts and roses six years later when the man of my dreams proposed to me in my mother’s kitchen on my birthday?

 

That’s cupid’s job.

Oh, I guess you’re right, but you could have given my sweetheart a nudge toward the living room instead of letting him slip the ring on my finger with the refrigerator as the backdrop.

You’re offended that I didn’t like your staging? Sorry, but that’s my line. I can see we’re getting nowhere. What do you say we call a truce? Here’s a rose to seal the deal.

 

Valentine Rose 2.14.2016 blog

What? You want red? Take my father’s advice.

Make do or do without.

 

 

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